Planning Skills: 7 Tips (Not Only) for Managers
If you are responsible for a project – either because you have a management position or because you’ve been assigned to head a specific venture – you need to have a good implementation plan. Planning, however, isn’t something that just happens. It’s a skill that needs to be acquired.
Planning Skills: what difference does good planning make?
In short: It makes all the difference. Some people claim that too much planning stifles flexibility, innovation, and adaptability to new circumstances.
That’s not true: Only if you have a good plan in place, it’s possible for you to make deliberate choices to deviate from it or to modify it as necessary at any given moment. The significance of a good plan depends on the duration of the project:
Up to a year
Plans that span a time frame of 12 months or less are important because of their significance for a smooth operation. They involve adequate staff, budget, and material planning and other operational aspects. Excellent planning on this level results in getting maximum outcomes for your expenses.
Plans that look at the length of more than a year are usually connected to strategic or tactical objectives. Those plans are important because their quality has major consequences for the long-term success of the company: Excellent plans can ensure continuous growth rates while bad plans can, as a worst-case scenario, lead to bankruptcy.
Both of the above types of planning need to be taken care of with a high degree of professionalism if you want your company to do well.
7 tips to plan successfully
The success of any plan – independent of the time frame it pertains to – depends on answering a set of key questions before you start your project:
What is the goal of your project?
Surprisingly, many project managers know exactly what they’re supposed to do, but not exactly why. Always remember: A project serves a very specific goal. You need to know what that goal is in order to plan your project adequately.
What does the data tell you?
Always try to find evidence for any decision you’re about to make. Today, we live in a world where information is easily accessible – make use of this benefit, don’t just follow your instincts.
Are there potential risks or thresholds?
If your answer is no, you didn’t look hard enough. A potential threshold can be that you need people outside your team to cooperate in order to proceed or an important stakeholder to approve specific aspects of your roadmap.
How can you tell if you’ve been successful?
Once you’ve answered the first question, you know what your goal is. Now you should define all the tasks and sub-tasks that need to be completed for your project to have been successfully implemented – and the budget and time frame as well. If your project’s duration exceeds a few days, you need to define success criteria for individual milestones as well.
What’s your Plan B?
Identify and anticipate the Achilles heels of your plan: Are there any aspects that, if they failed for some reason, could jeopardize the entire project? What are the precautions you could take to ensure that you’d be able to move on anyways?
Who needs to know what?
Set up a sound communication system to make sure everyone has the information they need at every point of your project. Check regularly if your internal communication is still intact to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts.
Is your plan realistic?
You need to find the sweet spot between a plan that isn’t ambitious enough to explore the full potential of the staff and resources available and a plan that wants to achieve too much and fails to meet its deadlines and objectives. Go back to question 2 if you’re unsure about this aspect and use data to verify that the scope of your project is adequate.
Of course, you may feel, after having read the tips above, like you haven’t learned anything you didn’t know before. That may well be true – but there’s an important difference between recognizing something when reading it and actually remembering to do something when it counts. That’s why checklists such as the one above can actually be quite useful: They can help ensure you don’t forget to consider any of the important questions for your next plan.